Games

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posted: July 3rd, 2006


So as I sit here, struggling to work out a crafting system that allows people to be ‘hard core’ crafters while still allowing solo crafters and balancing the whole thing against adventuring I run into a new snag; the concept of ‘social whittling‘.

Social whittling is a concept proposed by Scott Jennings. In a nutshell the idea is that sometimes people want simple, mindless, low stress activities, and that crafting fulfills this need. Now I’m not sure I agree with that 100% but in keeping with the ‘something for everyone’ approach that I want to try to hold to I have to consider it. Obviously there are those who look to use crafting to fill such a role and creating a complicated crafting system runs the danger of ‘forcing’ players to do something they find unfun (violating another of my tenets).

Of course the simplest solution, and the one espoused by Scott Jennings, is to have crafting not have any form of mini-game. To attempt a task you simply make sure you have the appropriate materials, click whatever needs to be clicked to start the task, and then wait. After a time you get a message that tells you whether you succeeded or failed.

On one level that seems straight forward enough, but if we balance the time of adventuring against the time of crafting it looks to me to be problematic. Assume for a moment that a solo adventurer will get an item drop roughly once every five minutes. This is probably a bit rapid but it should work for giving us a quick Fermi estimate. That provides a minimum amount of time that a crafter has to spend to make a comparable item. Obviously clicking to start the process and then waiting for five minutes will be incredibly tedious and while it might relax the social whittlers it is sure to bore the more involved crafters to tears. Some of this can be reduced through sub-combines, but it seems unlikely that you can find a number of sub-combines that will keep the dedicated crafters interested without providing too many steps for the social whittlers.

The answer seems to me to be to have two different sorts of crafting activities. I’m still trying to work out terms and metaphors for these activities but for now let’s refer to them as Routine and Experimental.

Routine actions are a sort of work-a-day activity. It is a person smelting ore while wondering what’s for dinner or else pounding out a blade while wondering what the weather will be like tomorrow. It isn’t the action of a master craftsman paying attention to every detail as they push their skills to their limit. It’s the action of a person who’s producing ‘yet another’ sword.

Experimental actions, on the other hand, are where a craftsman is trying something new. It’s a person smelting ore and paying absolute attention to the heat of the fire and the color of the ore or the craftsman who works more carbon into the edge of the blade than is standard to try to make a sharper weapon.

Any step a craftsman would undertake can be either a Routine or Experimental action. Overall the two actions would take close to the same time. Routine actions would have much lower chances of failure but would also produce very average results. Experimental actions on the other hand would have the possibility of producing better results but with an increased chance of failure and would be far more interactive.

This would create a system where you could have social whittlers and dedicated craftsman side by side, but would it work? Would social whittlers feel cheated because their products are typically of lower quality than the dedicated craftsmen? Would dedicated craftsmen feel cheated that social whittling is easier? How prevalent is social whittling, anyway? In a system where crafting is a full blown class would social whittlers make alts so they could craft? Would they find another activity to take the place of social whittling? These are all questions that really need to be answered.



43 Comments »

Quote: Evan
Any step a craftsman would undertake can be either a Routine or Experimental action. Overall the two actions would take close to the same time. Routine actions would have much lower chances of failure but would also produce very average results. Experimental actions on the other hand would have the possibility of producing better results but with an increased chance of failure and would be far more interactive.
I can not remember which game had recipes for spell casting (if I remember right), but I also seem to remember that the recipes quickly leaked into the community.

I fear that this system would eventually succumb to the same fate, especially given in a world where players expect/demand complex programmable UIs, so once the “correct” recipe is cracked, that info would end up posted on an info/forum site with all the instructions on how to program in the best create item.

Comment by Lost — July 6, 2006

There wouldn’t really be any recipe to ‘crack’ in this case. A project would always have the same steps and require the same components. What I am considering is that the player can choose whether to do a specific step in a Routine or Experimental manner. Experimental will usually produce higher results if the player interacts with the game. However if the player does not interact, or simply button mashes, the results will usually be lower. This will be a known behavior.

So given this would people who are ‘social whittling’ and who prefer to use Routine feel cheated or forced into using the Experimental method (which they find unfun)?

Comment by Evan — July 7, 2006

Evan said:
Experimental will usually produce higher results if the player interacts with the game. However if the player does not interact, or simply button mashes, the results will usually be lower. This will be a known behavior.
It could be more a case of what I expect it would involve and what you envision it would involve “experimental”. When I suggested recipes, to a certain degree I would expect that once you experimented and found a combination that worked to produce something good it could be easily be repeated with the same actions.

Evan said:
So given this would people who are “social whittling” and who prefer to use Routine feel cheated or forced into using the Experimental method (which they find unfun)?
To a certain it would depend on how “item-centric” the game is. If Experimental method only gave you a slight advantage over Routine method (ex: +3 vs +1), it could give the hardcore enough to do without leaving the social player a sense they are producing something worthwhile so that they don’t have to “experiment” if they don’t want to.

On the flip side of that, I have seen where people will bypass someone that is 99.9% for someone that is 100% (aka Grandmaster in UO terms) or something equal in level base terms. Because players have been trained that the highest is the best, even if in reality someone of lesser ability can do/create the same thing and it is equally as good. *somewhere Pavlov is smiling 😉 *

Comment by Lost — July 7, 2006

When I suggested recipes, to a certain degree I would expect that once you experimented and found a combination that worked to produce something good it could be easily be repeated with the same actions.

Sorry. I think the problem is probably the fact that I used the term Experimental. I could have just as easily referred to it as Focused. The difference between the first and second method is that the second basically has some form of mini-game involved while the first is ‘click and wait’. This is an attempt to suit the two different play styles of ‘Active Crafter’ and ‘Social Whittler’. Assuming the same level of success between the two methods the results would be the same.

In what I am envisioning there will be something similar to recipes as players will make decisions (e.g.: the tempering of the metal can make it harder but more brittle or softer but tougher at a certain stage) but those decisions won’t have anything to do with choosing Routine or Experimental/Focused method.

Does that make a bit more sense?

Comment by Evan — July 7, 2006

I think that it is a bit clearer as to what you are shooting for. Along with going back and reading social-whittling post with more care. I’m also going to take this opportunity to say that I got my feet wet in the MMO with UO. Which had very little to offer in terms of quests or mini-games, which I can’t say that was disappointing in my view (who knows the concept social-whittling might be left over from that time/player/designer base).

I think that if you want to design a viable social and active crafting, they both have to have their place within the game as a whole (which I might or not made clear, so I’ll expand on it some). I’m reminded of a quote from Richard Bartle’s book “Players will spend a lot of time being miserable if the reward is high enough. They’ll mindlessly click on the same “mining” icon for three hours, hating every moment of it, if the result is that they find the diamond they need to make a arrow of dragon-slaying.”

The real question/debate could be in evaluating each system on their own merits for the entertainment value of the player (which I attempted to touch on in my “RMT and game design”). While there certainly does need to be a “speed limit” to protect parts aspects of the game, such as the economy, are we trying to build a road with speed bumps or a 50 degree incline mountain road to climb? What value does long crafting/item creation times add to the entertainment value of the player? While it could be debated that it adds realism value, but that is hard position to support when the time it would take to make a sword in the real world would be much longer (even when converted into accelerated game world time).

And please note that I’m not completely dismissing the idea of active/mini-games crafting, I’m sure that there are people that enjoy them and would miss them if they were not there or worse they would view a “lite” crafting system as shallow. The primary goal should be to provide entertainment value for the player’s time. Much like any other form of entertainment (TV, movies, books, etc) what one person sees as great, another will think is mind numbing *cough American Idol cough 😉 *. I personally envision a more streamline game and of course streamlining comes with its own pitfalls and challenges, but that is another story for another day 😉 .

Comment by Lost — July 10, 2006

I heard the term ‘social whittling’ from Scott Jennings, so it’s a pretty solid bet that the concept is a left over from his days of playing UO.

Now as to the comment by Dr. Bartle, yes, players will spend a lot of time being miserable if the reward is high enough, but what does that ultimately do to their longevity as players? Does it shorten it significantly? Even more importantly, what does that do towards new players joining? If people hear that a game is a tedious grind, even if there are those occasionally ‘pings’ where they get a special item I suspect they will stay away, which is bad. My personal belief is that while you can get away with it that doesn’t mean you should. Games are about fun and entertainment and elements that actively detract from that should be avoided.

That doesn’t mean everything should be dumbed down and mining becomes a ‘click here for diamond’ activity. There’s plenty of ways to make such activities challenging without making the players hate them. A good minigame is an attempt at doing that.

What value does long crafting/item creation times add to the entertainment value of the player?

I started to write a response to this, but it is turning out to be rather lengthy so I’m putting it into a new post.

Comment by Evan — July 11, 2006

As far as social whittling goes, I do it all the time while crafting in eq2. Yes it is hard to chat during a combine but there is plenty of time inbetween combines and sometimes even enougth time between Wack the Mole attempts. In fact, I was in a tradeskill instance getting ready to do some combines when I started going back to commenting on your blogs. Server just crashed hence past tense but you really didn’t need to know that. 😛 Yes, I consider posting unsolicited comments to some stranger’s blog as part of social whittling. Well, some sort of socialization atleast.

Anyways, I don’t think social whittling is exclusive to tradeskillers. I’m sure that role players do their fair share of it and even raiders will sometimes sit back and do some mindless killing of trivial hordes while shooting the breeze.

Saying that the eq2 tradeskilling system inhibits social whittling is equivalent to saying that the eq2 combat system inhibits social whittling. Why? Because most of the time you can not solo or group effectively without button mashing, which in the case of priest curing detrimental effects is very similar to wack a mole. I am sure many adventurers will disagree with my last statement to which I can only reply that you probably aren’t pushing the envolope.

Going back to tradeskilling and trying to cater to both the active and passive crafters. I have though of a similar dicotomy when talking about my scheme for group tradeskilling. Just like we have simplified and standard tax forms here in Quebec where the simplified form usual result is your tax refund being smaller, I would see passive item generation resulting in one guaranteed generic quality setting of the result. Active crafting can also result in a generic quality item if left unattended or badly managed however there is also a chance at a superior quality item.

Active crafting would be more involved in that it could require interdiciplinary sub components or a group effort etc. Thus active crafting still has a component of socialization.

Passive crafting might be a more efficient way to solo grind. It would certainly be quicker but then would the customer really want the mass produced junk from passive crafters?

Perhaps. It all depends on how it is implemented and spun. Passive crafting should be a viable way of making items out of rare components. It might not be the best possible result achievable with that rare component but the customer can get it with little delay.

A rare item made by active crafters on the other hand may take hours even days to produce since the active crafter would have to find other people to work with in order to make the item. This ofcouse results in a more expensive item also because everyone that participated will want a cut.

A real world equivalent would be buying a stock car versus a custom built equivalent. Or a military equivalent, getting a standard issue rifle versus a sniper rifle. Sniper rifles are built to a greater degree of precision and thus are more expensive to produce.

Comment by Zygwen — July 19, 2006

No. Social whittling probably isn’t exclusive to crafters, but I think it may be much more prevalent.

I do think it’s fair to say that EQ2 crafting inhibits ‘social whittling’. What it doesn’t do is prevent it. However there is a lot of pressure on a crafter to be active and clicking buttons unless they are doing a task that is far below their skill level, and even then they need to keep an eye on things and occasionally click.

With what I am envisioning passive crafting would not be any faster than active crafting (and in fact might be slightly slower). I rather assume that crafting has to take time (I cover this in another post). Active crafting is an attempt to make it so that people have something to do while this time passes and aren’t simply stuck looking at the screen. It gives a slight benefit over passive crafting to encourage people to remain immersed immersed in the game rather than killing the time playing Tetris. Passive crafters, on the other hand, already have something to do to occupy their time. One reason that active crafting can’t have to great an advantage over passive crafting is because that would make passive crafters feel forced towards active crafting.

To put it in EQ2 terms, as an active crafter I have probably about a 95% chance of getting a pristine result, once my crafting level gets above 20 (at least on the things where it matters). Imagine if there was a second button I could click so that instead of ‘Combine’ I had the buttons ‘Active Combine’ and ‘Passive Combine’. Active combine would work just as it does now. Passive combine would evaluate my skill against the difficulty of the recipe and decide something like 20% chance of pristine, 40% chance of normal, 20% chance of shaped, 10% chance of crude, and 10% chance of failure. It would also decide that such an attempt would take seventy five seconds. Those chances and the length of time would vary depending on the difficulty of the task, but any combine I did could be either an active or a passive combine.

The choice of active or passive crafting would have nothing to do with whether the item was a rare or not, whether it was a part of a group effort, whether it was a sub-combine or a final combine, or anything else. It wouldn’t remove the need for sub-combines and could produce items just as fine as those produced by active crafting, though not as likely. When it comes to ‘grinding’ skill the two should be balanced. Active crafting will skill you slightly faster through better combines (more XP) and shorter tasks (more combines per hour) but would take more effort so many people would choose to grind passively.

Does that make sense?

Comment by Evan — July 20, 2006

I think the system you just proposed is already built into the EQ2 tradeskill system. Active crafters actively use tradeskill counters to counter events and to speed up the combine. Due to either a higher chance at pristines or faster combines, xp is also faster for an active crafter. A semi pasive crafter would randomly spam tradeskill counters not caring whether he or she manages to counter events. The semi passive crafter just cares about speeding up the process regardless of quality. The fully passive crafter presses start and goes afk till the combine is done.

The way I was looking at it was to expand the requirements for active crafters to the point where both active and passive crafting are viable choices. On one hand you save a significant amount of time say 30 minutes or more. On the other hand you can make a higher quality item. Provide the user with a real choice that has significant pros and con on either side.

Comment by Zygwen — July 20, 2006

No, that’s really just a case of active crafting where the crafter either button mashes or does nothing at all. For a social whittler the events popping up from time to time and the fact that you will take a pretty severe hit in quality probably keep it from being a ‘socially whittling’ experience. There is the implication that they should be doing something and potentially fatal consequences if they don’t (I remember when the Forge was listed on EQ2Players.com as one of the top 10 mobs that killed players).

I do agree that active and passive crafting need to be balanced (which is why I feel your earlier examples don’t really qualify as passive crafting). I just don’t think that making passive crafting faster is the way to do it. Instead I would say view passive crafting as the baseline. Active crafting takes additional energy (Risk) and so needs to be bumped up slightly in the Reward category to bring it back to balance.

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